By Jess Myers
ROSEAU, Minn. — There’s something perfectly appropriate about talking with Aaron Huglen at a coffee shop next door to Polaris, the famed northwestern Minnesota outdoor vehicle manufacturer.
Roseau, a town of 2,600 which sits 10 minutes south of the Canadian border, is most widely known for sending snowmobiles, ATVs and exemplary hockey players out into the world. Huglen, who graduated from Roseau High School in May, looks to be the next one to roll off the hockey assembly line, located a few blocks away at Memorial Arena.
In the final ranking of North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting this spring, Huglen was slotted 90th, meaning that he could hear his name called in the fifth round or sooner in NHL Draft when it’s held June 21-22 in Vancouver. Huglen has gotten plenty of calls from NHL teams in recent weeks, but is taking a low-key approach to all of that, choosing to watch the proceedings from home.
“I’ve talked to quite a few teams now,” said Huglen, a 5-foot-11, 166-pound forward. “We’ll see how the draft goes but all that means is I have a spot to try out.”
Two summers ago, prior to his sophomore year of high school, Huglen committed to the Minnesota Gophers — a decision he admits led to much good-natured ribbing from college hockey fans in this corner of the state where the North Dakota Fighting Hawks are clearly the de facto home team.
But there’s an impressive Gophers pipeline that leads to Roseau, with Aaron Ness playing at the U of M a decade ago, and Roseau stars Neal Broten, Aaron Broten and Brian “Butsy” Erickson lighting up the scoreboard at the old Mariucci Arena some 40 years back.
Huglen had an opportunity to spend all of last season playing junior hockey with the United States Hockey League’s Fargo Force, but wanted to play out his final season with the Rams. Huglen led Roseau in goals (17), assists (37) and points (54) in 27 games, leading the Rams to a 19-5-2 and to the Section 8-2A semifinals.
He had four goals, 10 assists, 14 penalty minutes and was a plus-2 in 28 games for Fargo and is likely to spend all of next season there, before heading to the U of M in the fall of 2020.
“It’s a great plan for development. He’s got a bright future, he just needs physical maturity. His body has to grow,” said Force general manager and former coach Cary Eades. “For him to go back to high school as a senior, we kind of put him on a plan to play one full year of juniors and we’re excited about that. He’s got some high-end speed and can make plays with speed.”
Huglen’s quest for physical growth this summer involves working out with a personal trainer in Roseau and occasional trips to Fargo for some on-ice time.
There’s a good hockey pedigree in the Huglen family. Aaron’s father, Mike, was a member of the Rams’ 1990 state title team — the last one-class state high school hockey championship won by a public school — and played college hockey at Bethel. Aaron’s brother, Paul, a sophomore, was second on the team with 13 goals and 35 points. Like the rest of the Rams, Paul benefited from his brother’s playmaking abilities.
“Aaron had a fantastic year for us. He was an unquestioned leader for us from Day 1, not just in what he says but in how he practices,” said Roseau head coach Andy Lundbohm. “He was our hardest worker and competed as hard as any kid and more in every drill. He was able to motivate the kids around him without having to really say a whole lot, just by being who he was. He absolutely elevated our whole team’s play.”
Huglen faced a bit of a dilemma two summers ago, when he narrowed his college choices down to Minnesota and St. Cloud State. As fate would have it, when the Gophers made a coaching change, Huglen ended up with the best of both worlds, getting to go to the school he liked best, and play for Bob Motzko, who was his top choice among coaches.
“I was recruited by (Mike) Guentzel at the U and I was also being recruited by Motzko at St. Cloud at the same time,” Huglen recalled. “I was really close to going to St. Cloud because I liked him so much, and now it’s worked out perfect.”
He also admits that there will be some adjustment necessary in the future, first to the faster pace on the ice in the USHL and in the Big Ten, and also to the faster pace of life — and traffic — in the Twin Cities when he gets to the U of M.
“You always think about the driving, coming from a small town, but I’m not too worried about it,” Huglen said, with a smile.